As people age, memory issues and dementia become more common, and for 5.7 million people in the US those memory issues come in the form of Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, and is characterized by regressive changes in memory, mood and behavior. The onset of symptoms is usually slow, but they eventually become severe enough to intervene with daily tasks.
Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the US – killing more people annually than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. In most cases, people with Alzheimer’s disease need a caregiver or a residential facility to help them manage their lives
Medical Management of Alzheimer’s Disease
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, so the main goals of treatment for this condition are to maintain a good quality of life, maximize the ability to perform daily activities, fostering a safe environment and enhancing cognition, mood and behavior.
As Alzheimer’s progresses, brain cells die and connections between cells are lost. Medications cannot cure or reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s, but the FDA has approved two types of medications to treat certain cognitive symptoms, including memory loss, confusion and problems with thinking and reasoning. These medications are cholinesterase inhibitors (Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne) and memantine (Namenda), and research into new medications is ongoing.
When Alzheimer’s is the primary health issue in the patient, caregivers should schedule regular check-ups and general health maintenance visits with their doctor about every three to six months. When comorbid health conditions exist, such as diabetes or heart failure, more appointments may be needed. The health, stamina and stress levels of caregivers must also be monitored.
Beyond medications, doctors can help to counsel patients and caregivers about non medical issues that should be addressed to help meet treatment goals. These issues include:
- A living will
- Financial reviews
- End-of-life care preferences
- Planning for any change of care needs that may arise through the course of the disease